Study acting. In order to become a professional actor or actress, you must be trained in acting. While many people have an inherent gift for the craft, nearly all great actors have had some degree of formal training. As a professional actor you must be able to bring a fictional character to life in a real and believable way. Most professional actors study throughout their careers. You can attend acting schools, participate in workshops or individual theatrical programs, train with an acting coach or study on-line. In addition to acting you may want to study other forms of performing arts such as music or dance to broaden your experiences.
Get a head shot. As a professional actor or actress your head shot is your calling card. It is the first thing that agents, casting directors, producers etc. will look at when calling on actors and actresses for a project. Make sure that your headset is taken by a professional photographer. To locate a professional photographer that does head shots for actors and actresses contact your local casting office or modeling agency and ask them who they use for head shots. Be sure to make copies as you will later be sending these photos out to agents and casting directors.
Create a resume and cover letter. As a new actor or actress you probably won’t have a long list of experience. This is why a cover letter is essential. You want the agents, casting directors, producers etc. to get an idea of who you are and the skills and qualifications you can bring to their project. When you have limited acting experience your resume should include any training in the performing arts, school plays, speech classes etc. Sample actors and actresses resumes can be found by researching on-line and in bookstores.
Get some experience. For a new actor or actress gaining experience is a must. Think about what type of actor or actress you want to be i.e. film, television, theater and focus a little more on that type of acting. Most agents will not take on inexperienced talent. A good place for a new actor or actress to get started acting is in community theater and student films. Contact local community theater groups, universities, colleges, private arts colleges etc. and inquire about where they post casting notices for their upcoming productions.
Another great way to get started in acting is to send your head shot and resume to your local casting offices. For a very small administrative fee, many of these casting offices will post your head shot, resume and demographic information on their website, which enables you to be seen by casting directors, producers or agents who are looking for talent for their projects. In addition, the casting agency will contact you with casting notices when commercials, films, theater productions etc. are holding casting calls for upcoming roles.
Start looking for an agent. Once you have your head shot, resume and some experience its time to start looking for representation. Locate all of the talent or theatrical agents and casting directors in your area and ask them if they prefer submissions by mail or via email. Then, submit your head shot and resume to them. Always include a self addressed stamped envelope if you want you photos returned to you. Some agents or casting directors will return you photos, others will not. When you make your initial call to the agents or casting directors office you will need to ask whether they return head shots or not. When you get a response from an agent make sure you are well prepared for your interview. Be able to discuss your experience and the direction you want your career to go in. You must also be ready to audition and ready to audition i.e. cold reading, monologue etc.
When you are signed. When you have signed with a talent agency, keep in close contact with your agent. Most casting calls are within a couple days of you being notified, some within 24 hours. Talent agents are very busy making calls, reading scripts and breakdowns and negotiating deals on behalf of their talent. Your agent will not have much time to take calls from you, so please be mindful of this and keep calls,emails etc. to a minimum.
Prepare for your audition. When your agent gets the breakdown or call for a casting, he/she will give you the particulars of the role, whether you need a monologue or will be cold reading etc. You will also be given time, location and a contact person. Always look neat and well groomed for your audition, with not too much makeup. You should look the same way that you do in your head shot. Always keep an extra head shot and resume handy in case you are asked to provide them to the casting director at the time of the audition.
On the job. When you have booked your first role be prepared to work hard. Study and memorize your lines well. Practice with a coach or mentor if necessary and accept their critiques. Always be on time and follow directions. Be professional and courteous to everyone. You never know where your next job lead will come from.
Tips and Considerations
If you are not signed by a talent agent right away, keep trying. Continue working on community or student projects to gain more experience. Resubmit your resume and head shot every 4 to 6 months. Also, make your own contacts. Attend industry events and mixers in your area to get to know casting directors, producers agents and other actors and actresses.
Continue to take acting courses and workshops. Not only is it beneficial for honing your craft, you may get valuable leads on upcoming castings and be introduced to agents or directors through your instructors and fellow actors and actresses.